Authors: Suetonius

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Roman biographer

c. 69 c.e.

Possibly Rome (now in Italy)

After 122 c.e.

Possibly Rome (now in Italy)


Because his father was military tribune of the XIII Legion, Gaius Suetonius (sew-TOH-nee-uhs) Tranquillus may have been born in Rome, Britain, or Africa; the year was around 69 c.e. He studied in Rome and became a lawyer and teacher of rhetoric. He also traveled widely. He accompanied Governor Pliny (Pliny the Younger) to Bithynia in 112. He also served for a time (119–121) as private secretary to Emperor Hadrian, but he lost favor, apparently for inattention to Empress Sabina while Hadrian was in Britain. {$I[AN]9810000319} {$I[A]Suetonius} {$S[A]Tranquillus, Gaius Suetonius;Suetonius}{$S[A]Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus;Suetonius} {$I[geo]ROMAN EMPIRE;Suetonius} {$I[tim]0069 c.e.;Suetonius}


By Michel Wolgemut, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Suetonius’s fame rests on his historical biographies of famous men. He collected anecdotes about figures in the public eye and set them down with more attention to their interest than to their accuracy. He eschewed a straight chronological method, grouping his material by subject and personality traits. He made little attempt at general assessment or psychological interpretation, but his stories about Horace and Terence, among others, and his private lives of the twelve caesars cover ground untouched by any contemporary except Tacitus and Dio Cassius. His approach is relatively free of bias and his tone one of detachment. Many later biographers took him as a model, including Einhard (in his ninth century biography of Charlemagne). Suetonius wrote about some of the most fascinating figures—as well as about one of the most important formative eras—in the Western tradition. His work therefore is an invaluable source for scholars of the Roman Imperial period. It is believed that he died in Rome sometime after 122, perhaps about 140.

Author Works Nonfiction: De viris illustribus, 106–113 c.e. De vita Caesarum, c. 120 c.e. (Historie of Twelve Caesars, 1606) Suetonius, 1913–14, 2 volumes (with English translation by John C. Rolfe) Bibliography Baldwin, Barry. Suetonius: The Biographer of the Caesars. Amsterdam: A. M. Hakkert, 1983. A biography of Suetonius. Bradley, K. R. Suetonius’ Life of Nero: An Historical Commentary. Brussels: Latorus, 1978. Presents historical commentary and context. Hurley, Donna W. A Historical and Historiographical Commentary on Suetonius’ Life of C. Caligula. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993. Provides historical commentary and context for one of Suetonius’s biographies. Jones, Brian W. “Suetonius.” In The Flavian Emperors: A Historical Commentary. Bristol, England: Bristol Classical, 2002. A biographical study of Suetonius. Kaster, Robert A. Studies on the Text of Suetonius, “De grammaticis et rhetoribus.” Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992. A critical study of one of Suetonius’s works. Lounsbury, R. C. The Arts of Suetonius: An Introduction. New York: P. Lang, 1987. A study of Suetonius’s literary art.

Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew. Suetonius: The Scholar and His Caesars. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984. A literary biography of Suetonius. Wardle, D. Suetonius’ Life of Caligula: A Commentary. Brussels: Latomus, 1994. A critical study and commentary on one of Suetonius’s biographies.

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